An important consideration when choosing an overnight camp is whether to select a boys-only, girls-only camp or a co-ed camp. Seasoned campers and camp leaders have varying opinions, and both types of camps have distinct advantages.
Many campers and counselors appreciate the way single-sex camps may be tuned into gender strengths and weaknesses to a greater extent than co-ed camps.
West County resident Garrett Doak, a Boy Scout volunteer for over 22 years and parent of two Eagle Scouts, said “Camps for just one sex tend to lessen the pressure for kids to ‘be on’ or to ‘show off’ for the opposite sex. Boys can be boys and concentrate on finding their niche and developing an appreciation and respect for nature.”
Doak also said he liked the “healthy competition” his sons experienced at the overnight boys-only camps they attended. “It was just enough to keep them interested in the camp activities and eager to try new things, but it was not too much to make them feel stressed” Doak said.
The American Camp Association [ACA] points out that boys-only and girls-only camps help to break down gender stereotypes. Boys are able to interact with men who act as nurturers and women interact with women in positions of authority, allowing each gender to see multiple roles.
“In addition to exploring the outdoors and growing their appreciation for the environment and nature, girls at camp connect with other girls and women to form positive relationships. Because of the all-girl environment, campers feel free to express themselves and take on leadership roles, and report that they make lasting friendships and memories that remain with them their entire lives,” said Kathy Dabrowski, director of camping services for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri.
There are advantages to attending co-ed camps as well. According to the ACA, the co-ed camp more accurately mirrors everyday living and may better prepare campers for life. It also allows families with opposite sex siblings to attend the same camp. The co-ed environment provides valuable social growth opportunities for young children, as well as those who continue to return to camp well into their teen years.
Doak’s wife, Linda, said single-sex camps were the right fit for her sons, but that her summer experiences at co-ed camps were also positive. She said the first time she ever was really “aware” of boys was when she attended a co-ed church camp at age 12. She said learning to interact with both sexes in a neutral environment increased her confidence and improved her social skills. Even so, there were times when the presence of boys at camp also made things more challenging.
Recalling an embarrassing experience when she could not complete the swimming requirements to swim in the deep part of the lake, Linda said, “If the camp had been all girls, I think some of my friends would have stayed with me in the shallow part of the water, even though they were good swimmers, but instead they wanted to be with the boys and I ended up sitting alone on the shore.”
The professionals at the ACA recommend exploring both options with each child and examining the materials the camps provide before making a decision. Regardless of the type of camp one chooses, proper supervision and staff training is imperative. A knowledgeable, well-trained staff is able to prevent many of the uncomfortable situations that might arise at camp, whether it is a camper’s reluctance to relate with the opposite sex at a co-ed camp or problems with competition between boys or girls in a same-sex environment.
For more information, visit www.campparents.org for help with determining which type of camp to attend.
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